How to Check on an Elderly Relative’s Health and Safety

Holidays are a great opportunity to visit elderly friends and relatives. It’s an opportunity to check in on their health and safety, without being too invasive.


Ask questions without interrogating. Find out if they have a normal routine, are getting around easily, and if there are any new health concerns. If you can, offer to do some small tasks around their home. Simple things like replacing light bulbs, or vacuuming the stairs, can be difficult for an elder with limited mobility.

  • What did you do today?
  • When did you last see the doctor?
  • Is there anything you need done around here?

Personal Observation

Sometimes, it’s easier to observe health and hygiene than it is to ask direct personal questions.

  • Are they wearing clean clothes?  Shoes or slippers that are safe for the floor surfaces?
  • Are their glasses dirty or broken?
  • Do they appear to be losing weight?
  • Do you notice any injuries, like bruises or limping?

Around the home:

While you’re there, casually observe conditions in and around the home.

  • Is there healthy food available?
  • Are there funny smells that might indicate a problem, such as burned food or mold?
  • Are their medications stored neatly? Are any refills needed?
  • Is the bathroom safe, or are there signs of a fall?

At an Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home:

If it’s an assisted living facility, or nursing home, there are additional considerations.

  • Do they appear comfortable with the staff? With other residents?
  • Is the facility clean and orderly?
  • Do they know when meals and medications are coming next?
  • Is there evidence of incontinence problems, or other physical needs not being directly addressed?

If you observe any problems or concerns at the Assisted Living Facility or in a Nursing Home, talk to the caregiver or floor nurse before you leave.

Get contact information, and promise to follow up make sure the problem is addressed.

Senior Care Corner is a great resource, and has some additional information and ideas for checking in on elderly people.

How do I know if a nursing home is safe?

There is no way to be 100% certain that your elderly relative won’t suffer an injury or trauma in a nursing home.

But when it comes to elder care, knowledge is power. If a home has history of abuse or neglect complaints, it’s a sign of serious, systemic problems.

Search for nursing home complaints 

Medicare tracks nursing home violations and deficiencies. Nursing Home Inspect has organized that data: you can search for a specific facility – for example, “Harborview Hospice”; or by location – “Aberdeen, Washington”. The information is updated monthly, and covers the past three years.     

  • How many complaints – or “deficiencies” have residents filed?

For example, Kittitas Valley Health & Rehab Center in Ellensburg, Washington has a shocking 59 verified complaints.

  • How severe are the violations?

Severity ratings range from “A” violations—the least severe, usually the potential for harm, without actual damage— to “L” violations, the most severe incidents, occurring in a pattern.

  • What actually happened?

Medicare’s incident reports are included; you can see the details of specific incidents, and know what to watch for if you have a relative in that facility.


A search for “Seattle, Washington” found 216 elder care facilities, with a total of 913 deficiencies.


This is a great resource, but one of the best things you can do to ensure a safe, healthy nursing home experience is to go there often, and on various dates and times.

If the residents generally seem happy and healthy, it’s a good sign.

If you suspect something is wrong, you’re probably right. Request an investigation.

See: How to file a Nursing Home Complaint: 4 easy steps. 


How to file complaint against a nursing home: 4 easy steps

Too often, people wait until an elderly person is seriously or fatally injured before registering a nursing home complaint.

If you even suspect that nursing home residents are being neglected, abused, or been treated improperly, you can—and should—file an official complaint to alert state authorities to investigate.

4 steps to filing a complaint:

1. Write it down. Get the facts down on paper as quickly as you can: it’s much easier than trying to remember the details later.

2. Fill out the investigation form. Medicare has contact info for every state agency charged with investigating malpractice, abuse and neglect complaints. You can remain anonymous in the report, but give them as much information as you can, including:

  • Date and time of the incident;
  • Address of the facility, and location within it (cafeteria, hallway, etc.);
  • Your description of what happened (this is where your notes come in handy).

3. Send it in. Mail, email, fax, or even call, but file the form as soon as possible. The sooner you file, the sooner the problem can be addressed.

4. Follow up. A representative should contact you; ask to be notified when the final report is complete.

You don’t have to wait for an incident or an injury.

File a complaint if you know about unsanitary or unsafe conditions, or chronic understaffing in an elder care facility.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, our state investigates all claims involving:

  • Patient abuse or neglect
  • Staff not available to provide care
  • Failure to provide care
  • Providing the wrong care
  • Medication errors or mistakes
  • Unsafe, unclean or dangerous areas in the facility
  • Patient injuries or falls
  • Not following medical orders
  • Improperly prepared food
  • Not responding to a patient complaint

Click here to file a nursing home complaint in Washington

If you need help with this process, contact Coluccio Law for a free consultation.

Everybody counts: one big problem in death claims involving the elderly

Imagine that you’re driving home from work. Coming up to a red light, you see an elderly man step off the curb at the intersection. The car next to you doesn’t see him, and turns right – directly into him.

You, being a good citizen, call 9-1-1.

The operator tells you that all of the ambulances are busy with more valuable people. You call the police: they won’t come because a young person got in an accident down the street, and well, it’s more important that they tend to him. You take the elderly man to the hospital yourself, but the ER doctor won’t see him, since he’s going to die soon anyhow.

Sounds crazy, right?

A little legal background:

When an elderly person dies as a result of nursing home neglect, their family can file a lawsuit. This is called a “wrongful death” claim.

What most families aren’t prepared for: the claims adjusters and defense attorneys arguing that the death of their parent, grandparent or sibling has little value, since they were going to die soon anyhow.

My response to this is always the same: either everybody counts or nobody counts.

Outside of litigation, no one rates the value of people’s lives by age.

Here, we are talking about the death of an elderly loved one. Someone that we understood had only a short time to live. Someone that we understood was not going to be with us for that much longer.

Regardless of the short time that our loved one may have had with us, when they are wrongfully taken from us, there must be an appropriate accounting for the injury, abuse or neglect that took them too soon.

The life was shortened, regardless of how much or little it may have been shortened.

It may have been just a few more holidays with the family, just one more wedding, just a birthday party. Those of us who have lost a close relative would give a lot for one more day.

We can’t allow lawyers for negligent nursing homes to diminish the value of our memories and experiences with our loved ones.


This post was adapted from nursing home abuse attorney Kevin Coluccio’s article Everybody counts: Death of our older clients, originally published in Trial News, February 2014, for the Washington State Association for Justice trial lawyers.

Increasing Acceptance of "Granny Cams"

Most of us have heard of nanny cams. Now, the tiny hidden cameras, used for parents who are suspicious of their nannies, are gaining greater acceptance as a way to stop elder abuse or nursing home abuse.

A video still shows a nursing home aide stuffing latex gloves into Eryetha Mayberry’s mouth

A video still shows a nursing home aide stuffing latex gloves into Eryetha Mayberry’s mouth

According to the NY Times’ Well blog, Doris Racher decided to use a granny cam to catch a petty thief who was stealing from her mother, a 96-year-old dementia nursing home patient.

Instead of catching the thief, Doris found an aide stuffing latex gloves into her mother’s mouth, while another taunted her, tapping her on the head, laughing.

Despite concerns about privacy, some state attorney generals have used hidden cameras to go after some suspected of nursing home patient abuse and neglect.

In June, Mike DeWine, the Ohio state attorney general, announced that his office, with permission from families, had placed cameras in residents’ rooms in an unspecified number of state facilities. Mr. DeWine has moved to shut down at least one facility, in Zanesville, where, he said, cameras caught actions like an aide’s repeatedly leaving a stroke patient’s food by his incapacitated side.

As for the Mayberry story, there is now a new Oklahoma law that allows cameras in residents’ rooms if consent forms are filed to notify the facility, according to prior coverage by News9. The law gives the family exclusive rights to the recording and allows it to be used in court.


WA Attorney General & AARP Tackle ID Theft with "Scam Jam"

We have talked about identity theft before in previous blog posts. The problem continues to grow by the minute.

In Washington State, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and AARP are joining forces to warn and educate the public about sharing information.

Almost 400 seniors attended the September 2013 Scam Jam in Burien

Almost 400 seniors attended the September 2013 Scam Jam in Burien

Last week , there was a  “Scam Jam” at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Doug Shadel, director of AARP Washington, was among the experts who talked about the trends in identity theft and other scams. Says Shadel:

“We have, for a long time, known that there will never be enough law enforcement people or social service agencies, really, to protect everyone from this crime, which is growing… So, we’re enlisting the support of the citizens themselves, to protect each other.”

The Scam Jam last week was packed house. The one last month at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien was well attended with over 400 senior citizens in the audience.  Additional seminars will appear on the calendar soon in Seattle, Spokane, and Kennewick.

At the September Scam Jam, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkin presented a section on “Skimming and Internet Fraud.”  She warned about “skimming,” which involves stealing bank card numbers and PINs from unsuspecting consumers. Theft can occur when a scammer installs scanners and small cameras on ATM machines. Ms. Durkin urged consumers to take a few simple steps to avoid getting snared including:

  1. Wiggle the card reader: This is often where scammers will install devices to read your card and capture your information.
  2. Look for suspicious holes: Scammers may install small cameras that peer through pinholes in the ATM machine.
  3. Cover the keypad: Cover the keypad when entering your PIN. Also look around and make sure no one is watching over your shoulder or standing above or around you where they can see what your PIN is.
  4. Check your accounts: Check your accounts on a regular basis to make sure no one has made charges on your account or withdrawn your funds.

At the October Scam Jam, Mr. Shadel explained that the first event was the start of a yearlong, statewide effort to create a Fraud Watch Network. People who are interested can call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center at 800-646-2283.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said some elders in Washington are easy prey for scammers. Too often, they readily offer personal information. A caller may claim that the elder’s grandchild is stuck overseas. Other scams include developing a relationship with the elder online. Once trust is established, the scammer then asks the elder to transfer funds.

Mr. Ferguson advises that adult children should raise their elderly parents’ awareness about the multiplying types of online/phone scams.

“That conversation can be done in a way that is sensitive to the situation and explains these scams do take unusual courses of action by using technology. Never send a check, never send credit card information, never wire money until you’ve absolutely made sure it’s a legitimate business, or a legitimate person calling you up.”

An AARP survey found more than 80 percent of people who fell for lottery or investment fraud schemes are age 55 or older.

WA State Has a Problem with Caring for Some of its Most Vulnerable Citizens

Two July 31st Washington state audits reveal some significant issues with how our developmentally disabled citizens are inadequately served. Audit findings include:

Washington’s challenge is to make more equitable services available  to all the eligible people who are asking for them.

Washington’s challenge is to make more equitable services available
to all the eligible people who are asking for them.

  • 23 criminally disqualified caregivers were hired. This number is based on a sample pool of 1,400 supported-living workers (out of 40,000 statewide).
  • 12% of caregivers lack safety training certifications. Note that the numbers may actually be much higher, but the state is too understaffed to investigate or cross-check records.
  • There were roughly $500,000 in overpayments. These overpayments were due primarily to errors manually transferring rates into spreadsheets, and then manually transferring again into the payment system.
  • There were about $11.3 million in questionable payments and $5.5 million in unauthorized payments. Mismanagement of funds focused on paying roughly 3,700 individual citizens, while  ~15,000 people eligible for such services as housing, medical care and job planning languish on a waiting list.

The Seattle Times ran a blistering editorial enumerating Washington state’s problems with caring for some of its most vulnerable citizens, calling on lawmakers to do something.

Indeed, what do we need to do to open the eyes to our legislature to address the serious problems that the auditor’s reports call out?!2nd Auditor Rept

As one of the auditor’s reports points out, Washington serves fewer people compared to other states.

In 2012, Washington served 12,722 people with ICF/ID or HCBS services. Based on 2012
population estimates, this is about 186.6 individuals per 100,000 in the general population,
which is still below the 2010 national average.

Spotting Signs of Elder Abuse

You are probably reading this blog because you want to learn more about elder abuse and how to prevent it. A good online resource is the website of the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). The site offers resources and information for those researching topics on elder abuse, neglect, and related policies.

One of my favorites sections of the site is its FAQs. Rather than provide that entire FAQ here, I’ll include an excerpt that focuses on spotting signs of elder abuse:

What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, some indicators that there could be a problem:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs. Read our section on Factsheets & Publications for more information about how caregivers can prevent elder abuse.

It’s important to remain alert. The suffering is often in silence. If you notice changes in personality, behavior, or physical condition, you should start to question what is going on.

More Shelters at Nursing Homes for Abused Seniors

A recent U.S. News & World Reports article talks about a topic that The Elder Abuse Watchdog has covered before: nursing homes and retirement villages are offering refuge for the growing number of abused elderly.

The article cites an alarming statistic: one in 10 adults over the age of 60 is abused or neglected, according to a study by the Medical University of South Carolina. More surprising is that the elderly victims are most frequently abused by their own children or someone in their own family.

Photograph taken on the grounds of the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention

Photograph taken on the grounds of the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention

Like the Shalom Center that I wrote about earlier this year, a few more are popping around the country. The Hebrew Home began in 2005 with its Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention in New York.  About six other nursing homes followed suit.

According to the U.S News article, the Hebrew House is meeting with other nursing homes, so we will likely see more emerge in the coming years.

Tony Palumbo, county attorney for Anoka County (where Crest View is located) points out that a victim’s behavior will be sudden as opposed to slow and gradual.  Mr. Palumbo created the Stop Abuse and Financial Exploitation (SAFE) initiative. SAFE’s mission is to protect seniors from financial abuse, which is one of the most common forms of elder abuse.

Hospitals, police, and social services staff are those typically referring senior citizens who show signs of abuse to the Weinberg Center. The CEO of Crest View Senior Communities (who has replicated the Hebrew Home model for its shelter) in Minnesota, Shirley Barnes explains the importance of neighbors staying vigilant and watchful.

Alzheimers Numbers to Almost Triple by 2050

A recent Reuters article relays the findings of an alarming article published in Neorology. The number of those with Alzheimer’s disease will virtually triple by 2050. Around 13.8 million in this country will have this affliction, and roughly 7

Over 13.5 million U.S. citizens will have some form of Alzheimers by 2050. Over half will be 65 years or older.

Over 13.5 million U.S. citizens will have some form of Alzheimers by 2050. Over half will be 65 years or older.

million of those with Alzheimers will be 65 years or older. To give you some context, about 5 million are estimated to have this form of dementia in the U.S. at present.

Organizations such as the National Institute on Aging are concerned about this looming epidemic, given that very few treatments are available for Alzheimers patients. Reuters quotes the study co-author, Jennifer Weuve, an assistant professor of medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL:: “Our study draws attention to an urgent need for more research, treatments and preventive strategies to reduce this epidemic.”

The article points to underwhelming results of pharmaceutical companies, such as Eli Lilly and Co. Lilly had release solanezumab, which had failed in mid 2012 to meet the primary goals of two studies in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Solanezub only showed a slight benefit when the studies were pooled to look at the effect on those with the mildest form of the disease. According to reports, Lilly plans to start a new trial in patients with mild Alzheimer’s this year.

The rapidly growing number of Alzheimers patients will burden the healthcare system, facilities designed for the elderly, as well as families of those caring and supporting loved ones with this disease. The team at Rush Medical Center hopes that the staggering statistics will compel U.S. policymakers to plan accordingly.


About Kevin

Kevin Coluccio was recently named one of the Top 10 Super Lawyers in Washington State. He has long history of successful elder abuse/neglect cases and has a stellar reputation for getting results for his injury clients in serious car crashes, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, maritime claims, and asbestos injury cases.